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Family Housing

Volume 181: debated on Wednesday 21 November 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what additional resources he estimates are required by district councils to meet the needs of families who are overcrowded, living in damp houses or are homeless.

If authorities consider that additional resources are required they should include their expenditure proposals in the housing capital programmes which are due to be submitted to the Scottish Office this month.

Is the Minister aware that that is a totally unsatisfactory answer? Anyone who read the special article in The Scotsman on Saturday—I take it that the Minister did—about homelessness and various other problems could not conceivably accept that answer as a suitable reply to a crisis that especially faces our young people. Does he recall from that article that homelessness among the 16 and 17-year-old group has increased 85 per cent. in the city of Edinburgh and 95 per cent. in the city of Glasgow? It is now estimated that 10,000 young people are sleeping rough on the streets of Scotland in places known as cardboard cities. Will the Minister take emergency action this side of Christmas to bring those people into shelter?

Obviously I agree that it is unacceptable for a single person to be without a roof, That is why I strongly recommend local authorities to state whether they have emergency accommodation available. The Hamish Allan centre in Glasgow, part of which the hon. Gentleman represents, does that job extremely well. Local authorities, together with housing associations, should negotiate nomination rights. I know that Scottish Homes is now actively encouraging housing associations to provide short-term, furnished bedsit accommodation. Local authorities should look at all the possibilities as well as bringing back into use the many vacant houses in their possession.

On homelessness costs, we have come forward with an initiative to make certain that, in future, local authority costs will be borne by the taxpayers at large—the community charge payers—so that they no longer fall on rent payers alone.

Is not it a disgrace that on the streets of the capital of Scotland people are sleeping rough every night of the year? Will the Minister heed the fact that only a quarter of Edinburgh's total housing stock is in the public sector? Unless we expand the total amount of cheap, low-cost housing, the plight of the homeless is likely to get worse. We should pay attention to that problem throughout the year, not just at Christmas.

A considerable proportion of Edinburgh's public housing stock is empty—more than 7 per cent., which is much higher than that of other Scottish cities. I strongly urge Edinburgh to do everything in its power to bring more of that stock into operation. Nobody should be without a roof and I believe that Edinburgh will take its statutory responsibilities seriously. If it needs more hostels, it should make that absolutely clear in the housing plan that it submits and which we shall consider urgently and sympathetically as soon as we receive it.

Is not there something sickening about a Minister who ensures that his own family are properly housed but shows such callous disregard for the misery caused by homelessness and by dampness and overcrowding in housing? Those problems are a direct result of the cuts that the Government have imposed on housing in the past 10 years.

Is not it true that total expenditure by central Government for local government housing has been cut by more than 50 per cent? Is not it also true that the Minister voted for his right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)? If so, does he agree with his right hon. Friend that a much more interventionist policy should be pursued in terms of housing?

I voted for the Prime Minister— [Interruption.] Like Monty, she is a victory-winning general.

Since 1979 we have increased resources by 7 per cent., whereas the Labour party reduced resources by no less than 36 per cent. I do not believe that it is necessarily appropriate to take responsibilities away from local authorities. Given that they take those responsibilities seriously, we shall respond quickly and effectively to their requests in relation to housing.